As the Hurricanes prepare to travel to ice-cold Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving for their nationally televised game at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Miami coach Al Golden relayed a mixture of bad and good news Sunday:
Cornerbacks Corn Elder and Nate Dortch will miss the game with undisclosed injuries.
Cornerback Artie Burns, who didn’t play Saturday in the win against Virginia because of an ankle injury, will be back for Pittsburgh.
Cornerback Ladarius Gunter, who was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center late in Saturday’s game, is out with a “strained neck” but will likely be back for the bowl game.
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Those are a lot of cornerbacks with precarious situations, but Golden realizes how fortunate the Hurricanes are that Gunter, a junior, escaped without a major injury after colliding with two Cavaliers late in the fourth quarter of Miami’s 45-26 win over Virginia.
“It’s scary for any of us,” Golden said of Gunter’s collision, which silenced the crowd and had Miami players kneeling in prayer. “It’s a physical game and guys get bruised and dinged up, and when something like that happens you just want to be really cautious.
“We have great medical staff and great training staff and they did all the right things. We were fortunate to get positive news.”
Golden said “all the results came back negative,” but UM is “going to weigh on the side of being prudent” and “conservative” while Gunter, who was back at UM Sunday “and will be around the team all week,” heals.
The coach said senior safety Kacy Rodgers will shift to cornerback, “as he has the most experience.”
Golden was asked if redshirt freshman Larry Hope, who has only played in two games early this season, could play corner if needed.
He indicated Hope still needs to play faster, master the defense and be more consistent.
“I hope he’s ready to step up,” Golden said. “There are a number of guys there that are fighting for that opportunity. I know that Hugo Delapenha has been working there and Keion Berry has been working there and certainly Kacy Rodgers has worked there. But out of that group we’re going to need not just Larry but someone to step up and take special teams reps and first.. and second.. and third-down reps.”
Golden said special teams have been “affected tremendously” by injuries to players such as Duke Johnson (broken ankle), Gunter, Elder, Burns, Dortch and receiver Phillip Dorsett.
“It’s been a trickle down,” he said. “All of those guys are skill guys and fast guys. It’s had an impact on us.”
The players who have “stepped up” in their absence: Jamal Carter, Jermaine Grace, Delapenha, Stacy Coley and Nantambu Fentress.
Dorsett, who has missed the past five games with a knee injury, will see at least some action at Pittsburgh — though he is not included on the latest depth chart released Sunday night. He dressed for the Virginia game, but was listed as out.
“We did not intend to play him,” Golden said. “We wanted to make sure he ran routes and warmed up because it really helps him with his rehab and feeling confident. …We expect him to be ready.”
Danny Isidora, who played for the first time Saturday after undergoing foot surgery during fall camp, is the backup right guard on the depth chart.
“The plays that he was in he did a great job,” Golden said. “We’re going to see more Danny moving forward.”
The Pittsburgh Panthers (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) edged Syracuse 17-16 Saturday on the road to become bowl eligible.
The Hurricanes (8-3, 4-3) need this victory to secure a better bowl and give themselves a slim chance of winning the Coastal Division and advancing to the ACC Championship Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C.
“We have a huge game that has implications around the dial,” Golden said. “We have to finish strong.”